Drawing heavily on the classic William James book, THE VARITIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE, Dr. Frank, professor of Astrophysics at the University of Rochester, explores the shared properties of science and his word for religion, (pg. 5) "human spiritual endeavor." Frank describes himself as a "believer" and what he deeply believes in is (pg. 3) ". . . the path and practice of science." In short, Dr. Frank is an atheist who is also a spiritual person. A better word to describe him is "non-theist," as the word "atheist" now carries too much baggage.
Given Dr. Frank's different worldview from ASA members, is there reason to read this book? The answer is "yes," on two counts. First, it acquaints the Christian reader with a person with whom one can have a profound disagreement and yet respect. Second, it exposes one to an honest non-theist who honestly considered the many stories told by people who have had personal spiritual experiences. Frank points out that these simply cannot be glossed over as coincidences or hallucinations, but must be taken seriously as a part of a body of evidence of something. He writes (pg.7) "There is . . . some truth discovered, that is more than simple neurochemistry gone amok." He asserts that he, himself, has had such experiences, some closely connected to his life as a scientist.
Dr. Frank book is most interesting; it is an easy read for those not annoyed by a clash of philosophies. Frank chooses to describe spiritual experiences, both religious and scientific, as "heirophanies" a word first coined by Eliade (pg. 81). This allows him to account for reports of religious experiences without having to think of a divine person. This is, of course, a classical "nothing buttery" argument and is unlikely to impress a person who has had a genuine theophany. In my opinion, however, Frank is blowing his dusty horn in a closed room, unaware of a world beyond his vision.
John W. Burgeson
Lago Vista, Texas
Sent to PSCF 5-26-2011
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